Sunday, February 2, 2014

Comparing Poems: An Invitation to Close Reading

  I am finally wrapping up poetry. In November, I foolishly thought that I could squeeze the unit into the fourteen days between Thanksgiving. Hahahahahah! Between days off for school and extra time to let ideas percolate, the unit has stretched into thirty days. I don't regret it. Looking back, I don't see any lessons that were blind alleys or unproductive tangents.

  Our culminating activity is a little project to compare poems. Over the years I have collected a decent collection of poetry books for my classroom, augmented by strategic bookroom purchases. (All of the books can be found on my Figurative Language Pinterest board.) My dream was for students to dive into the books and read a variety of poems by different authors.

Step 1: Read at least 5 poems from 2 different books

Step 2: Choose two poems to compare
After students read and explored the poems, they had to choose two to compare. Luckily a grandparent volunteer was in the room with me on this day to help! We ran back and forth to the copier to make copies of the selected poems so that students could trade books around and still keep the poems they wanted. (Why make copies? If I had had students write out the copies by hand, some would have tried to find the shortest poems possible. Life in fourth grade.)

Step 3: Use a chart to compare the poems
Fourth graders really need some guidance in comparing poems. This chart helps students to focus on some key criteria to consider.

As students worked, I went around the room...partly to answer questions, and partly to read all of the great poems! Students did find some neat parallels. "Takeout" in Pieces and "Regurgitate" in Antarctic Antics share a topic, while another student found that "Spring Wind" in The Great Frog Race compares nicely with "Windy Nights" by Robert Louis Stevenson.

The best part, of course, is how the activity led students to ask questions and really consider aspects of the poems. Of course, I didn't answer all of the questions for students; in most cases, we went back to the poem together to try to think through them.
-Do you think this is a simile?
-Is this poem saying what I think it's saying?
-What is the theme of this poem?

...and my favorite question:
-What is an artichoke, anyway?

Getting fourth graders to slow down and really read a poem carefully is not an easy task. In this activity, the act of comparing led students to dive deeply into the poems. How are they different? How are they similar?

Step 4: Write a paragraph to compare the poems
We've written several of these paragraphs together, and I've given students feedback on their work so far. I used the feedback only process instead of feedback + grade, underlining great topic sentences, marking transition words ("Use these words again! They really help the reader to see how ideas connect!"), and circling specific text details. Some students asked to get their previous paragraphs from their folders so that they could refer to them as they wrote again.

Step 5: Create an illustration that shows aspects of both poems
Students are really excited about this step, and are thinking through their illustrations with care. This seems quite easy, but depending on the poems, it can be more tricky. Students are really looking forward to this step and keep coming up to me to show me all of the details they've included.

July 2014 Update
-You can find an iPad activity for students to use to compare poems here.
-This Frolyc activity invites readers to compare three texts: a poem, a video, and an informational text.

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